Privilege VS Rights and the Health Care Debate


These last few weeks in my ethics class, my students and I debated a great deal regarding what constitutes Privilege VS Rights and when we talk about rights, are we talking about “natural” or “socialized” rights? Our conversations are dealing with ethics in the realm of health care and affirmative action.

Although there are many people who believe strongly in “natural” rights (rights granted by the nature of being); I tend to define rights as being “socialized” rather than “natural,” because for me . . . a natural right has to be a right shared by all humans and is not one that is granted to person by another person or law. Defined in this way, I can not think of any so called “natural” rights at all. Even our “right” to breath, exist, and act can be taken away from us. Our so-called right to think and hope and believe can also be done away with. As such, I see rights as being socialized agreements.

But what about privileges? How can we define this concept? After Googling the term, I got: “a special advantage or immunity or benefit not enjoyed by all.” The key for me here is that it is a benefit not enjoyed by everyone–such as status, power, money and all that money can purchase, even the quality of an education.

Now, we can earn both rights and privileges and rights and privileges can also be taken away from us. For example, many rights guaranteed by the US constitution goes out the window once a person has broken a law. Our right to vote goes away, for example. So, rights can be taken away by law, by force or forfeited.

The question that remains is this – why do we conflate the two terms? Why call health care a “right” when it is a privilege (currently). Is there a point in time where “good” health care goes from being a right to becoming a privilege?

In our economy, health care, or at least much of it such as the really good machines and the really good medicine and the super good care, goes to those with the money to afford it -the privileged. Now we all have a “right” to health care in that if we are not insured, we can sill walk into a hospital and cannot be denied care – but we can be denied quality! And this is the key.

Can health care be a right if quality of care is contingent on what type of insurance you have or how much money/power you have. We all cannot be Dick Cheney and have a doctor following us around 24/7 now can we? This is privilege care (indeed!).

So the question is this, why are we not bringing up the fact that most health care is a privilege in this country, because the right to health care does not include the right to QUALITY health care. A right can be taken away and or given but how conditional are we willing to allow it to be?

What do you think?!